EuroScience, as a grassroots organisation representing scientists, recently responded to the EU Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation. Below is a summary of the response. The full response can be downloaded here.
In this document, EuroScience presents its views on the EU Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation. We find it important to respond as a grassroots organisation with a membership across 40 European countries. EuroScience agrees that conceptually it makes sense to define EU policies for research and innovation in a comprehensive way but one must realise the enormous variety of goals and instruments covered by the Framework Programme, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, the EIT let alone the Structural Funds. There also huge differences in scope and scale. This makes the concept of a single implementation framework daunting. Whatever programmes are eventually chosen should obey four important principles: excellence, simple rules and low administrative burdens, open competition without ‘juste retour’ and stable instruments.
The EU should spend more on research and innovation, but should go beyond the voluntary way the principles of subsidiary and European added value have been applied so far and use international experience and empirical data to decide what should be done at a European level, and what by the countries or indeed regions themselves. Within an annual 11 billion € envelope for research and innovation (currently some 8 billion €) the research section should have four priorities: 4 billion € for the European Research Council, including the Marie Curie fellowships; 5 billion € for tackling, in a comprehensive and large scale way, a limited number of major societal and often global challenges; 1 billion € for construction or operating costs of large scale research infrastructures; and 1 billion € for large scale, strategic cooperation programmes with countries or regions in other parts of the world, to strengthen Europe’s global position. Portable social security schemes and pensions, as well as career development are key non-financial measures. For innovation the programmes focused on societal challenges would be the main vehicles. In addition, a European-level equivalent of the Small Business Innovation Research programme of 5% of the programmes addressing large societal problems is the best instrument to challenge SMEs to be leaders in innovation. Access to capital is a third pillar. Key non-financial measures are the European patent, pre-commercial procurement, legislation and regulation to stimulate innovation and the reform the venture capital market.
Rather than pursuing a vague concept of ‘the innovation cycle’, EuroScience recommends to focus on how to best support research, how to support innovation, how to get the educated workforce Europe needs, and how institutions responsible for each of these can be stimulated to stick to their own mission, yet reach out to other stakeholders in order to further innovation. The ERC is doing this with its Proof of Concept programme and Universities are doing this, and the programmes addressing societal challenges are well suited to more comprehensive approaches as the EIT’s Knowledge and Innovation Communities seem to illustrate.
With regard to instruments, a clean-up is needed. JTIs, KICs, the SET plan for Energy, Joint Programming Initiatives, Public Private Partnerships, EUREKA clusters and many others offer a bewildering picture, and their governance structures suffer from too great involvement of government officials. With regard to research infrastructures, a new mechanism, building on ESFRI, must provide for selection and co-financing of specific large projects. Also for international cooperation a new mechanism is needed – the current calls are unsuitable.
Industry must be a fully recognised partner, but its precise role depends on the programmes the EU supports: no central role in the ERC, a crucial role in the programmes addressing societal challenges, and a total focus in an ‘SBIR’ programme. But supporting SMEs is usually done more effectively within countries. The Risk-sharing financing facility is especially important for industry. However, more public money to industry will not help industry to close the gap with the US and Asia in industrial R&D expenditure. The real challenge is how to make young companies grow fast.
Simplification of rules and procedures is not solved by fashionable concepts such as ‘one-stop-shopping’ without a change in the mindset of those applying the rules. Trust is the key word. For the rest, the problems can be easily resolved by using nationally approved rules and procedures (e.g. in National Funding Agencies) as guidelines. These have all been approved by national parliaments, why hesitate to turn them into European rules?
Another challenge is to integrate national funds in European programmes. Governments and funding agencies are reluctant to create common pots; these funding agencies are insufficiently involved in discussion on policies for STI; the organisational and governance schemes for joint EU-national projects are far too complex. Instead one should build more on bottom-up agreements between key research institutions and companies, aided by a simple percentage-wise EU-contribution. National Funding Agencies should be stimulated to finance the medium-sized Research Infrastructures.
For devoting Structural Funds to improving the infrastructure for research, innovation and growth, two principles stand out. FP funds, focused on excellence, should not be used – catching up with excellence through Structural Funds is, however, perfectly appropriate. A tighter framework should govern what activities Structural Funds in general, and in the area of research, innovation and growth in particular, can be spent. Defining smart specialisation strategies is important.
Many ways exist to supply policy with scientific information, such as JRC, the Interacademy Panel, national academies of science, STOA and others. EuroScience and European learned societies welcome to be requested more systematically to provide such advice. We suggest organising yearly well-structured and prepared debates on key topics with politicians, scientists, societal organisations, companies and citizens. Engaging citizens and civil society is vital. Brief, digestible policy reviews commissioned by governments, the EC or as a corollary of scientific review papers by scientific journals will help.